Reviews West End & Central Published 3 May 2013

The Tempest

Globe Theatre ⋄ 23rd April - 18th August 2013

Stage magic.

Nathan Brooker

To an extent all theatre is about magic. Not the magic that pulls rabbits out of hats or saws women in half necessarily, but the magic that keeps several hundred people in (relative) quiet as they watch actors prance on a stage, blatantly lying about who they are and what they’re doing. Shakespeare knew this, of course, and alludes to it time and again, but it is perhaps in The Tempest where he confronts the idea most forcibly. And it is this idea, the theme of magic and its guises, that anchors Jeremy Herrin’s production. A production that is – though not the deep psychological examination it might have been – no doubt a class act from beginning to end.

A touch of the production’s magic occurs at the outset. The action starts with a hammering of thunder-sheets and crashing cymbals, as King Alonso’s ship is tossed about on the tumultuous waves. The sailors, in protective leather tunics, roll and stumble on the stage as though on the sea-bitten deck, while above them, Prospero (Roger Allam), architect of the storm, lays outstretched on a platform watching the ship battle the elements. Then, from behind the groundlings, we see what he sees, as stage-hands woozily carry a model of Alonso’s galleon above the heads of the audience: two scenes played out in composite to show the inventiveness of Prospero’s magic, and the magic of Shakespeare’s art.

A different sort of magic comes across in the scenes between the lovers. Joshua James’s Ferdinand is hilarious as a posturing hero who is so weedy he can barely lift his sword, but when he falls under the spell of Jessie Buckley’s tomboyish Miranda, the enchantment is played out with a tenderness that is heartfelt and surprisingly touching. A similarly light touch is paid to Caliban too. Clambering up from the cellarage in the first act, Caliban (James Garnon) ambles about the stage like an angry primate; his body caked with mud and smeared with rudimentary red and white paint like an orc from the Lord of the Rings films. Prospero’s other minion, Ariel, is dressed and is played by Colin Morgan like some sort of exotic flightless bird. A little dim and peacock-like, Morgan’s Ariel perfectly captures the male-female duality that the part is famous for, and when he bounds onto the stage towards the end of the play as an 8ft mythic eagle, the transformation is startling and impressive.

The Tempest, though popular, is essentially an odd play, a sort of jumble of ideas, characters and motifs that do not sit together all that comfortably – especially to modern sensibilities. On this front, Herrin’s production is undoubtedly populist, and he eschews the play’s blacker elements – the treatment of Caliban, the domination of Miranda, the depictions of ownership, cowardice and betrayal – and focuses instead on the lighter elements. Roger Allam’s Prospero is more worrisome dad than heartless tyrant and, in that, the production feels as if it’s a bit of a rarity as, to my experience, actors are all too keen to reach for the eye-liner and slather Prospero with all manner of issues of rage and control. But it Allam’s restraint, he may actually be more akin to how the role was seen originally; The Tempest is, after all, classified as a ‘comedy’ in the First Folio.

It is fitting that the final word should go to Allam, whose breadth as an actor is simply remarkable. So familiar is he a presence on TV and radio these days, that it’s easy to forget the man is a Shakespearean actor of the finest quality. Allam delivers what Patrick Stewart called Prospero’s ‘gruelling’ speeches – and in the Globe too, a most unforgiving of venues – with life and wit and with an understanding that he also has the voice of the playwright, to promise forever to break his staff that had once inked and conjured such memorable gods and monsters before his audience as he bids farewell to the stage.

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Nathan Brooker

Nathan is a freelance journalist at the Financial Times and a freelance researcher for BBC Films. In his spare time he likes watching television programmes made by Armando Iannucci, thinking really hard about things and lying to himself and everyone close to him about liking apricot jam. He lives in London.

The Tempest Show Info


Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Cast includes Roger Allam, Colin Morgan, Jessie Buckley, Jason Baughan, Sam Cox, Pip Donaghy, Trevor Fox, James Garnon, Peter Hamilton-Dyer, Joshua James, William Mannering, Sarah Sweeney, Amanda Wilkin.

Link http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

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